I grew up in a Catholic household with a heavy Hispanic influence. I was made by my mom to go to catechism every Saturday morning (usually as a disciplinary measure) and Mass every Sunday morning. Even though I was not forced to go to catholic school like my oldest brother was, the influence was very strong and still is to this day. My father, a Midwestern farm boy converted from Mormonism to Catholicism when he married my Hispanic mother. What a melting pot!
I continued my catholic lifestyle until we moved to a new neighborhood when I was 16. Our new home was across the street from a Presbyterian Church, and all of my new friends in the neighborhood were members. I was urged to attend Presbyterian worship services by my peers and it was a great eye opening experience for me. There were no padded kneeling rails, and there were books called “hymnals” in the backs of the pews. There were also bibles there as well. There were no Sunday missals; there was no daily communion service, and no confessionals. The only thing we stood up for was to recite the Apostle’s Creed and the Gloria Patri and to sing from the hymnals. The minister spoke English, not Latin or Spanish, and the sermon was quite enjoyable. I liked it, and I soon joined the youth group and became a convert much to my mother’s angst. But still, she was happy that I was attending church somewhere, even if it was a Protestant one. After a while I was even teaching bible study to the younger kids.
Then I met Sammie. When I met her, she was 17 and was quite the little party girl. We both worked for Montgomery Ward, and even though she succumbed to a lot of peer pressure on Friday and Saturday nights, she was in church with her mom and little brother on Sunday morning, confessing her “sins” to the Lord above and moving on. She attended a Pentecostal Church not far away from where we lived. I was invited to attend church with them one Sunday and, for the lack of any other way to put it, I thought that those people were “freakin’ crazy”. I had never seen anything like it.
I had never seen anyone scream from the pulpit, much less leave the pulpit and run around the sanctuary screaming. I had never before experienced anybody “speaking in tongues”, or be “slain in the spirit”. It was a very scary experience to me, and I waited for them to bring out the snakes. Sammie in turn attended a Catholic Mass with me and she thought it was a little weird and even boring to her. She could not understand why we prayed to Mary or other “statues” when we should be praying to God alone, and “what are all of these candles for?” She could not understand why we confessed our sins to a man (a priest) and not to God. We attended several other churches, and were eventually married in the Presbyterian Church. During the course of the early years of our marriage, we still moved around to different churches, and settled in with the Southern Baptists. It was a little bit like what she was used to, but not so overwhelming that I would be turned off to it, and I felt comfortable there because our mailman went there. We were comfortable, and we attended for quite a while. When we moved to the Midwest, we joined the Baptist church there as well.
But as I had mentioned in other articles, Sammie’s dad is a preacher. He leads an independent, self-made church in the lower Appalachian Mountains. His church got a grass roots start in the mid 70’s in an old tin building, then on to a small wooden church (both with a wood stove for heating) and now thrives in a large stone block building with central air, classrooms, a kitchen and a huge fellowship hall. All of this is on the property where his old tin and wood buildings once stood, all hand built, block by block by this now 80 year old man.
But what goes on inside this church is still, after thirty years, strange to me. I still find it uncomfortable and unnerving to continue to experience all of what I described earlier. I find myself sitting there judging these people in a negative way, comparing them in my mind to the “educated religions”. An educated religion to me is one where the church organization (the Catholics, Baptists or the Presbyterians as a whole) require their pastors and priests to have a formal theological education or seminary from a recognized university like Fuller Theological Seminary in New Jersey, or Biola University in California, or even Oral Roberts University. I keep thinking that these people act the way that they do because they are uneducated and don’t know any different. Many, if not all of these independent ministers are either self-ordained or ordained in an independent church with no real accreditation.
I did a little research here locally on the licensing of ministers. Are ministers that perform wedding ceremonies required to be educated or certified? Apparently not. They just have to be registered as clergy in the county where they preach, and sign off on the marriage certificate. I have often wondered if the marriages that were performed by these self-ordained preachers were considered legal, and it seems that they are, at least in this state. But many states require that clergymen be duly licensed to preach and that their ordainment is from a nationally recognized church and most nationally recognized churches require theological training.
My youngest son became an “ordained minister” at the age of 22, but only to be able to marry his older sister and her husband in a private ceremony. He was not required to attend any theological training; he merely applied online to a “nationally recognized church”, paid a small fee, and was sent an ordainment certificate that was legal and registered in the state where he lives. It seems that the popular trend nowadays is to have a friend perform a wedding ceremony in this fashion. It amounts to nothing more than a civil ceremony, one where the presence of God is not a requirement.
But getting back to my point, these uneducated, self-ordained ministers seem to be much more “spiritual” than the ones with four years of seminary under their belts. These people are seemingly the grass roots of American Bible-belt theology, the heart and soul of Holy Ghost preaching. They have a ministry because they want to do it or they have a calling to do so, not just as a career in a big church with a nice office, but in tents and in tin and wood buildings. They have a true and undaunted faith that the Lord will provide for them as they go from day to day preaching and teaching from tent to tent or church to church. The majority of these preachers do not draw a salary, but depend solely on the offerings of the congregation. It is pure faith in God at its best.
But what I have noticed about the difference between these two groups is that the “educated” churches attract an educated congregation. The cross section of Protestant congregations for example, contains a majority of professional or degreed church members, with white collar jobs. The small independent churches are just the opposite. They are filled with a congregation of the blue collar workforce. The protestant worship services are rigidly structured to not last much longer than an hour or an hour and a half. The sermon is usually a quiet lecture with a few anecdotal comments, and then the service is over after the last hymn and a quick benediction. Many times, more often than not, the Pentecostal services will run all day, depending on the mood of the preacher and how strongly the Holy Spirit is moving through the crowd. Prayers for the people can last longer than the sermons.
So while I was sitting in my father in-law’s church this past Sunday, I began to think a little bit about my attitude toward it all. Does too much education cloud your natural reasoning of what God is all about? It is said that babies and young children have a greater sense of what is natural around them, they are more apt to sense what is right and wrong because they have an innate sense about them. It is a sense that is pure and unaltered. Once they begin to absorb the outside stimuli of parental teachings and the influences of their environment, their natural innate senses are pushed to the back burner. In a sense, they are conditioned to lose touch with God and their spiritual side. These “uneducated mountain folk” as it turns out, have an education that I wish I had, one that wasn’t spoiled by ritualism or a confluence of various religious teachings from unknown sources. Their environment is Godly, and therefore their children are Godly. They were raised in the basic teachings of the Holy Bible. Not one with an Apocrypha or one that was a new translation used in a church that was rebelling against another one.
With education comes the variation on a black and white theme. Biblical scholars all try to derive new meanings from a simple statement, but end up confusing the original Word from what it was really meant to say. I think that I have realized finally that to fully appreciate God’s Word and His teachings, I must forget all that I have learned and let myself be “re-educated” in the spiritual way, the natural way that God made us, much like that little baby eager to learn while his mind is still clear. I have to clear my head.
I think that I have a ways to go yet. It seems that old habits and conditions are hard to beat. I had originally started out to write this piece as a defense for the educated churches, but as I worked through it, I seemed to develop a different point of view. I began to realize how basic God’s Word is, and how easy it is to learn His plan once that you can prepare yourself mentally and spiritually to accept it. Once you have accepted it, given yourself to it and thirst for it, then you will learn to be disciplined within yourself to live it.
As always, remember to do something special for a stranger, work hard and give thanks to God for everything, and always be safe. God bless you all, and thanks for stopping by.
I bid you peace.
©2011 by Del Banks